September 21, 2019: A Monk Cave, a Vampire Grave, and a Witch Path

Today, two days before the first official day of Fall, we headed to the eastern edge of western Massachusetts, mostly around Springfield, the third largest city in the state, behind Boston and Worcester. We had what seemed like a more interesting itinerary than usual, and I say that because every time I told the kids what we were driving to next, they didn’t roll their eyes and ask how many miles away it was.

First on our docket, a monk cave. Which, I know, sounds like a strange phrase to precede with an indefinite article. Monk caves are underground stone structures that aren’t caves and have nothing do to with monks. They’re holes in the forest that are lined with rocks and vary in size from that of closets to small sheds. They’re all over New England forests.

We were looking for one in Shutesbury, off Mt. Mineral Road, which starts out as a dirt road and then becomes, like, more of a dirt road. It cuts through a thick forest and is pocked infrequently with houses that I assume are hideaways for crooks. It took us a little bit to find, but the monk cave is visible from Mt. Mineral, on a side road numbered like a driveway.

But there it was, a rock-lined hole at the base of a tree.

The most interesting theory about these structures is that they are the ruins of pre-Columbus Europeans. We ache for ancient ruins up here in New England. I love those theories, mostly because I like the idea that my first-grade history teacher was dead wrong, so I’m always chasing after sites and oddities related to the topic. But this…isn’t one of them.

Truth is, monk’s caves are…vegetable cellars. A place for colonials to store perishables, since the underground chambers kept things at a cool and constant temperature. A good proof in this case is that the general area is wrinkly with abandoned stone fences angling through the forest, evidence of when New England was almost completely denuded into farmland and pasture.

I lowered myself into the well-like structure, which felt a lot like diving into a badger hole. I’m six feet, and I could stand up straight only in the middle of the sloping ceiling, and I could touch both sides with my hands.

It’s not the first monk cave I’ve been buried in. For instance, the Upton Stone Chamber in Upton, Massachusetts, a beehive-shaped structure much larger than Shrewsbury’s. Also, we’ve been inside an actual monk cave that did involve a monk—the Cave of Kelpius in the wilds of Fairmont Park in Philadelphia.

After we pulled ourselves out of the hole, we were off to a vampire grave. There are quite a few of these artifacts in New England, too, mostly in the barely state of Rhode Island. All the vampire graves in New England share the same story. Family members start wasting away from the highly contagious and not-yet-identified condition of tuberculosis, dead family members are accused of being vampires feeding on the family, and the relatives truck out to the local graveyard, disinter the dead, and perform some grisly ritual (the details of which vary) to stop the vampire/ex-loved from from rising and absorbing the life essence of their still-living loved ones.

In this case, it is the family of Reverend Justus Forward in Belchertown, Massachusetts. In the late 18th century, members of his family started growing pale and gaunt and lifeless, so they headed out to South Cemetery. The first family member they dug up was Forward’s mother-in-law, Martha Dickinson, who had been dead for three years. Sucks that mother-in-law jokes are so cliché, because this is the one instance in the history of the formula where it really works. However, when the condition of her corpse didn’t raise any suspicions, they moved over to the grave of Forward’s daughter, Martha Dwight, who had been dead for six years, and rough-autopsied her, too. Her lungs were found to be suspiciously fresh and blood-filled, as was her liver, so they screamed vampire into the graveyard night and commenced to removing said lungs and liver, which they separated from the corpse into a box and reburied it above the casket.

Martha Dwight’s stone is still there in South Cemetery, although indecipherable. Even the photo here on FindaGrave is more legible than the state in which I found it. Still, finding a vampire grave is relatively intense, because, aside from the story itself, it means you’re standing on the exact spot where the ghastliness happens, the remains of the suspected vampires and mutilated corpses just feet beneath.

I stumbled across this particular vampire grave while watching an episode of the show Legend Hunter on the Travel Channel (a Josh Gates-clone back when Travel Channel wasn’t a paranormal network). In the episode, the cast used ground-penetrating radar on the plot to determine that a small object was buried above the coffin. And I use “determine” in the loose sense those types of shows use.

From there, we visited a site that I apparently didn’t think important enough to stick in the title: The grave of a science fiction author. His name was Edward Bellamy, and he’s buried in Fairview Cemetery in Chicopee. In 1888, he wrote a popular and influential utopian novel called Looking Back set it in the far-off year of 2000. In it, he establishes a world that has abolished private property and nationalized important services and is doing much better than American 1888. People dug it so much, they started forming their own clubs around his ideas.

I’ve never read the novel, but I do love visiting the old graves of science fiction authors. It gives perspective.

Finally, we hit up Witch Path, which doesn’t get an indefinite article. I have a separate post full of photos on this one, because it’s a really cool spot with a really strange story, and this article is already too long.

Witch Path is an official road in Springfield, complete with its own green metal sign. It runs through a ravine that borders Meeting House Hill Cemetery. The story of the name can be culled from 19th century newspapers. One account states that it got its name because the cemetery was believed to be a cavorting grounds for ghosts and witches. Another account, older by 30 years, is that a woman was found in the ravine, close to death, who claimed she had been tortured by witches all night. They had stuck her with pins and led her around on a halter. The witches disappeared at daybreak.

The cemetery is a proper graveyard, as it has a church, a large white one. Although it’s not a church anymore, based on the building’s peeling paint and the sign in front of it that calls it a recording studio. Witch Path ends in a group of houses that feel completely separated from the city around them.

Unfortunately, the neighborhood isn’t witch-themed. Although it should be.